Communities Organizing Against Big Pork

The editors at FoodPrint asked me to write a supplement to The FoodPrint of Pork (see post below), highlighting three of the dynamic rural grassroots organizations who are resisting the takeover of their communities by the pork industry. The stories of North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Missouri Rural Crisis Center are a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of rural America.

Published at FoodPrint, October 30, 2020

In the last 30 years, the shape of hog farming has transformed. It used to be that tens of thousands of small-scale farmers would raise hogs to sell at local auction houses. Today, hogs are being raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) — huge barns holding thousands of animals. The auction houses (where the bidding of multiple buyers formerly ensured farmers a fair price) have been replaced by contracts, under which farmers raise animals for a large pork company according to strict specifications, and for prices they have little say in determining. In many instances, farmers no longer even own the pigs. Across the country, the number of pork farmers has declined by 75 percent over the last three decades, whereas the number of hogs being raised has increased by nearly 50 percent. Now, four companies — Smithfield, Tyson, JBS and Hormel — control two-thirds of the entire US pork market.

The loss of hog farmers has had a negative economic impact on rural communities. The proliferation of hog barns, by contrast, with their enormous amounts of waste, has led to polluted rivers and wells, toxic air and diminished property values. Industrial hog barns have also drastically affected the quality of life for people throughout rural America: in some states, the impacts are widely felt; in others, they are concentrated (with brutal precision) in low-income communities of color.

Many such communities, in Iowa, North Carolina and Missouri, have been fighting the power of Big Pork for decades, facing intimidation, massive losses, and getting outspent by millions of dollars. Their stories illustrate how the pork industry has captured state houses across the country and written laws enabling hog farms to increase in size — causing air and water pollution without restraint — and how farmers and rural residents have been able to organize to wrest back control of their communities and their environment.

The opposition to the highly consolidated, polluting and politically powerful pork industry is important in and of itself, and such valuable stories attest to the energy and tenacity of rural organizing. Agricultural economist and longtime rural resident and observer John Ikerd said, “I see the future leadership of our rural communities rising up from the people standing up and resisting the CAFOs.”

While much of rural America has been taken over by Big Meat, thousands of people across the country are resisting, and building an alternative — one that is democratic and people-centered, not based on corporate interests. For the future of all communities that are in danger of being subsumed by corporate greed, we must support them and follow their example.

Read the rest of the publication: Communities Organizing Against Big Pork

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